Monday, October 31, 2016

Bud Light Drops Liberal, Haranguing Commercial After Sales Drop

Beverage conglomerate Anheuser-Busch InBev has stopped airing Bud Light beer commercials with liberal political messages that featured divisive ultraliberals Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen.  Sales took a dive since the commercials began.  In one ad, the two complained that women are paid less than men for the same work, a point that has been repeatedly debunked since it’s been shown that women make nearly 100% of what men make when careful apples-to-apples job and work-hours comparisons are made.  The lie makes for good Democrat propaganda to low information voters, but why spout this in a beer commercial?

No surprise that beer drinkers don’t want to be harangued with Democrat social justice warrior propaganda.  I enjoyed this:  “Comments on the video [of the beer commercial] have since been disabled on YouTube.”  One can only imagine.  Moreover, the two personalities spouting the nonsense are very polarizing.  For example, Amy Schumer at a recent appearance went on an anti-Republican harangue that caused much of her audience to walk out.  And Seth Rogen has compared the popular, pro-American film American Sniper to Nazi propaganda.

One can just imagine the scene around the conference table at a trendy New York City ad agency: 

Hipster 1:  None of us drinks beer, and no one we know does, so how do we pitch this stuff?
Hipster 2:  I know, let’s get Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen.  Everybody loves them and their politics!
Hipster 3:  Great idea!  And how about they complain about how women are oppressed by men!
Hipster 4:  Another great idea!  Man, we’re hot today!  We’re gonna sell a lot of beer!

R Balsamo

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Clinton Criminal Enterprise – The Unveiling Continues

Former Federal prosecutor and astute analyst Andrew C. McCarthy has summarized the case against Democrat Hillary Clinton that she ran the United States State Department as a criminal enterprise, selling out America to enrich herself and her husband, former Democrat president William Clinton.  This sordid episode in American history is far from over, as the fallout from FBI Director Comey’s whitewashing of Hillary Clinton’s felony mishandling of classified information has severely damaged his reputation and that of the FBI as a whole, and has corroded the American trust in that storied institution.  Comey yesterday announced that the FBI has reopened the investigation, purportedly because of the discovery of new evidence in the form of emails that somehow the FBI missed previously.  In addition, as far as I know the FBI is considering a Congressional request to open a criminal investigation into the Clinton Foundation in light of the growing evidence it is a front for a criminal enterprise.

As I have written previously, Democrat Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt major American politician in American history, and the depth and breadth of her corruption is breathtaking.  Furthermore, she is a congenital liar whose every word, including "and" and "the" (to borrow a phrase), is a lie.  From Whitewater and the "cattle futures" Tyson bribe in her early days up to the bribery thinly-camouflaged as “speaking fees” and Clinton Foundation “donations,” she has been a one-woman criminal enterprise. 

Some excerpts from the McCarthy analysis:
Whatever the relevance of the new e-mails to the probe of Clinton’s classified-information transgressions and attempt to destroy thousands of emails, these offenses may pale in comparison with Hillary Clinton’s most audacious violations of law: Crimes that should still be under investigation; crimes that will, in fitting Watergate parlance, be a cancer on the presidency if she manages to win on November 8.
Mrs. Clinton appears to have converted the office of secretary of state into a racketeering enterprise.  This would be a violation of the RICO law — the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1971 (codified in the U.S. penal code at sections 1961 et seq.).
Hillary and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, operated the Clinton Foundation.  Ostensibly a charity, the foundation was a de facto fraud scheme to monetize Hillary’s power as secretary of state (among other aspects of the Clintons’ political influence).  The scheme involved (a) the exchange of political favors, access, and influence for millions of dollars in donations; (b) the circumvention of campaign-finance laws that prohibit political donations by foreign sources; (c) a vehicle for Mrs.  Clinton to shield her State Department e-mail communications from public and congressional scrutiny while she and her husband exploited the fundraising potential of her position; and (d) a means for Clinton insiders to receive private-sector compensation and explore lucrative employment opportunities while drawing taxpayer-funded government salaries.
While the foundation did perform some charitable work, this camouflaged the fact that contributions were substantially diverted to pay lavish salaries and underwrite luxury travel for Clinton insiders.  Contributions skyrocketed to $126 million in 2009, the year Mrs. Clinton arrived at Foggy Bottom [the State Department].  Breathtaking sums were “donated” by high-rollers and foreign governments that had crucial business before the State Department.  Along with those staggering donations came a spike in speaking opportunities and fees for Bill Clinton.  Of course, disproportionate payments and gifts to a spouse are common ways of bribing public officials — which is why, for example, high-ranking government officeholders must reveal their spouses’ income and other asset information on their financial-disclosure forms.
 While there are other egregious transactions, the most notorious corruption episode of Secretary Clinton’s tenure involves the State Department’s approval of a deal that surrendered fully one-fifth of the United States’ uranium-mining capacity to Vladimir Putin’s anti-American thugocracy in Russia.  [...]
The WikiLeaks disclosures of e-mails hacked from Clinton presidential-campaign chairman John Podesta provide mounting confirmation that the Clinton Foundation was orchestrated for the purpose of enriching the Clintons personally and leveraging then-Secretary Clinton’s power to do it.  Hillary and her underlings pulled this off by making access to her contingent on Clinton Foundation ties; by having top staff service Clinton Foundation donors and work on Clinton Foundation business; by systematically conducting her e-mail communications outside the government server system; by making false statements to the public, the White House, Congress, the courts, and the FBI; and by destroying thousands of e-mails — despite congressional inquiries and Freedom of Information Act demands — in order to cover up (among other things) the shocking interplay between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation.
Under federal law, that can amount to running an enterprise by a pattern of fraud, bribery, and obstruction.  If so, it is a major crime.  Like the major crimes involving the mishandling of classified information and destruction of government files, it cries out for a thorough and credible criminal investigation.  More important, wholly apart from whether there is sufficient evidence for criminal convictions, there is overwhelming evidence of a major breach of trust that renders Mrs. Clinton unfit for any public office, let along the nation’s highest public office.  

R Balsamo

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Lucia di Lammermoor at the Lyric Opera

Lucia di Lammermoor is back in Chicago at the Lyric Opera.  It was last presented just five years ago this month, when soprano Susanna Phillips kept us in the audience spellbound, and a bit apprehensive, during the opera’s famous “mad scene” as she moved up and down a tall winding staircase without railings.  The staircase is gone in this season’s production but the set and the singing were just as outstanding.

Lucia is widely regarded as Donizetti’s masterpiece, written when the composer was just 37 years old and premiering in Naples in 1838.  The plot is simple, especially by opera standards, featuring proverbial “star-crossed” lovers in Scotland caught up in a blood feud between their families.  The tragedy is set in motion when Lucia’s brother Enrico and a retainer trick her, with a lot of browbeating thrown in, into marrying an aristocrat for her brother’s benefit rather than the man she loves.  Unfortunately, besides not being rich and influential her lover Edgardo happens to be her brother’s enemy.  Returning from an overseas mission, Edgardo bursts in on the scene just as the marriage is completed and confronts Lucia, each one mistakenly feeling betrayed by the other.  The famous sextet breaks out as the six major players simultaneously express their various emotions and desires.  The just-married Lucia, learning that her lover was true after all, goes mad and tragedy ensues.

As popular and famous as it is, I must confess that the opera’s so-called “mad scene” is not one of my favorite parts.  The long, multi-part Act 1 love duet is splendid, the deservedly famous Act 2 sextet is a highlight in all of opera, and the moving Act 3 lament by Edgardo that ends the opera is wonderful.  But opera aficionados do love that mad scene, in which sopranos over the years have added their own vocal embellishments to an already difficult score.  In his critical treatment The Opera, Joseph Wechsberg writes that the “Mad Scene is a ne plus ultra tour de force for prima donnas ...  Afterwards, nineteen other composers wrote ‘mad scenes’, giving their prima donnas such murderous fioriture [florid embellishment of a melody] that only a ‘mad’ woman would be expected to sing them.”      

Gaetano Donizetti
Speaking of singing, it was uniformly terrific, featuring as leads Russian Albina Shagimuratova as Lucia, Pole Piotr Beczala as Edgardo, and American Quinn Kelsey as Lucia’s nefarious brother Enrico.  The sets were arresting and enhanced the experience.  Large multi-sectional panels divided the stage into a foreground and background, and particular arrangements of the panels in various scenes allowed for an interesting visual complexity, accentuated by skillful use of strong light and deep shadows.  With an otherwise minimalist set, which I usually do not care for, the effect was powerful and a strong stimulant to the imagination.

The recording I enjoy is from 1971 with a truly all-star cast – Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Chicago’s very own Sherrill Milnes, and Nicolai Ghiaurov, with Sutherland’s husband Richard Bonynge and the Covent Garden Orchestra and Chorus.  Opera doesn’t get any better than that.

R Balsamo

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Illinois River Ride & War Memorials

Ottawa Civil War Monument
On a beautiful, unusually warm Indian Summer day, we decided to take a long and leisurely drive along a stretch of the Illinois River and see the beginning of the fall colors.  We were a bit early for the colors but it was a wonderful tour just the same.  I hoped to visit the war memorials in Ottawa and Marseilles.

Ottawa is a small Illinois city which sits at the confluence of the Illinois and Fox Rivers, near the historic Starved Rock.  The old Illinois and Michigan Canal pathway runs through town on its way to its terminus a short way to the west in the town of LaSalle.  The Canal ran parallel to the river, connecting Lake Michigan, via the Chicago River, with the Illinois at the point where the latter became sufficiently navigable for larger cargo ships.  From the Illinois River a ship can travel to the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf of Mexico.  The Canal is no longer operable and many sections are dried up, but its path can still be seen. 

Statues of Lincoln & Douglas Debating
Ottawa was the home of the founder of the Boy Scouts, and there is a Scouting Museum now open.  The town was also one of the sites of the infamous Radium Girls tragedy, in which clock-making workers licked radioactive paintbrushes only later to suffer radiation illness.  And perhaps most famously, Ottawa was the site of the first of seven Lincoln-Douglas debates, held in 1858 between the two men to promote their candidacies for the United States Senate.  Lincoln famously lost, of course, but was so impressive that he was nominated two years later as the second Republican Party candidate for the Presidency.

Plaque at the Site of the First Lincoln-Douglas Debate
In the center of town, near old stately courthouses, is the large Washington Square Park, the site of that famous debate and now of two touching war memorials.  The larger is a tall obelisk dedicated in 1873 to the fallen of the Civil War.  Names were etched at the base but are mostly eroded now from wind and rain.  

Recently, stone panels were laid nearby with the names etched once again, of the fallen in the Civil War and the Spanish American War.  I didn’t see it, but no doubt present is the name of General W. H. L. Wallace, an Ottawa resident and one of the heroes of the critical Hornet’s Nest valiant hold out at the battle of Shiloh, which allowed the rest of the Union Army to survive and bought time for Grant to regroup his forces and eventually win the battle; Wallace was mortally wounded there and died three days later in his wife’s arms, saying in his last breath "We meet in heaven."  

Ottawa Memorial to the fallen of WWI, WWII, Korea, & Vietnam 
A second, later monument in Washington Square Park is dedicated to the fallen of World Wars One and Two and of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, all of whose names are once again etched in stone. 

East of Ottawa, also along the Illinois River, is the small town of Marseilles and the site of the Middle East Conflicts War Memorial.  It’s a bitterly sad and haunting place, with tall, granite sections of wall crammed with the names of the fallen, sitting high on the river bank where one can see and hear the rapids below.  As the water churns one contemplates the heroic but tragic loss of brave and sweet life, nobly sacrificed on people so often filled with rage and hate and for a confused and misguided purpose of such fleeting effect.

The Marseilles Memorial to the Fallen of Middle East Wars

R Balsamo

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Republican Cowardice Is a Provocation: Democrat Lawfare Misconduct Stopped in Wisconsin But Will Just Move Elsewhere

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by three Wisconsin Democratic district attorneys who sought to revive an immoral and unethical ginned-up, years-long faux-criminal investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign.  These despicable Democrats, unhappy with Walker’s success in curbing Democrat union excesses, until finally stopped by the Court mounted a "John Doe" lawfare campaign that issued dozens of subpoenas, seized equipment, and confiscated millions of documents from those many Wisconsin law-abiding Republicans they illegally targeted.  These disgraceful Democrats no doubt were encouraged to conspire to abuse the law and their political offices by past Republican weakness in similar Democrat lawfare operations, and felt, almost certainly correctly, that even if stopped they would suffer no consequences. 

I haven’t followed the case closely, but Walker seems to have hardly fought back to help those who worked hard to support him.  If the parties had been reversed, Republican prosecutors would never have brought invalid and unethical charges in the first place, but even if they did a Democrat governor would have used all the powers at his disposal to destroy them.  Walker, with his eye on a run for the White House, had other priorities than vigorously defending state Republicans against unfounded lawfare attacks by rogue Democrats.

Democrats are masters at ginning up prosecutions for their partisan gain.  Three recent, particularly impactful examples come to mind.  In 2005 county Democrats in Austin ginned up an investigation of Texas Republican Tom Delay, then Majority Leader of the U.S. House and one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress.  He was driven from office, and then later his conviction was overturned by the courts.  But not before the Democrats had taken out one of their strongest opponents.  And the Democrats seem to have suffered no consequences for this malicious lawfare.

Later in Texas as well, Democrats ginned up a case against Republican Governor Perry and weakened his presidential chances.  In 2014 Perry was indicted by a grand jury in a heavily Democrat county by a vicious Democrat prosecutor for threatening to veto a bill the Democrats liked and urging the replacement of that Democrat prosecutor after she was convicted of drunk driving and incarcerated but had refused to resign.  The courts threw out all charges against Perry as unconstitutional, but not before the Democrats had harmed his national standing and reputation.  The Democrats seem to have suffered no consequences for this malicious lawfare.

In Alaska in 2008, Democrat prosecutors ginned up a case against sitting Republican Senator Ted Stevens, which caused him to lose his upcoming election.  In the wake of the “scandal,” a Democrat won the seat in an otherwise Republican state and that Democrat cast the 60th vote for Obamacare.  After the election, the conviction against Stevens was overturned when a Justice Department probe found evidence of gross prosecutorial misconduct.  The federal judge on the case called it the worst case of prosecutorial misconduct he'd ever seen.  As an aside, the Democrat federal prosecutors were part of the Bush administration, which just underscores the environment of profound Republican spinelessness in which rogue Democrats everywhere operate.  But the Democrats got what they wanted, and suffered no real consequences for this malicious lawfare. 

The cowardice of Republican leaders, who refuse to vigorously defend each other when under attack, invites more and more of these Democrat abuses.  In the movie The Untouchables Eliot Ness was advised to bring a gun if his criminal enemies brought a knife, but Republican leaders respond to knife attacks by turning the other cheek.  Obama publicly tells his Democrats to “punch back twice as hard” and “get in the faces” of their enemies, but Republicans hesitate to fight back.  Their weakness is a provocation, and, as Osama bin Laden said, when people see a strong horse and a weak horse they are naturally drawn to the former.  This sordid story of Democrat misconduct and Republican spinelessness explains, more than any one single issue, the popularity of Donald Trump.  As Lincoln said of Grant, “he fights!”

As the illegally-targeted Wisconsin Republicans pick up the pieces of their lives and livelihoods, the Democrats have moved on and are scouting their next targets.  

R Balsamo

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Jan Morris of the Pax Britannica Trilogy at 90

Today is author Jan Morris’s 90th birthday.  What a treasure trove of writing she has given us.  She has been as prolific as she has been masterful, and I have read much of her work though far from all.  She mixes history and culture and travelogue into most interesting evocations, and of these I have especially enjoyed, many times over, her treatments of Venice, Trieste, and Hong Kong.  But I believe her masterpiece is her trilogy of the history of the British Empire – the Pax Britannica Trilogy.  History it is, but really a pointillist portrait of the sights and sounds, the ethos and the pathos, the glory and the tragedy, of that remarkable historical phenomenon. 

I have reread that work many times, and I always find something new to reflect on, to marvel at.  I often pick up a volume and begin reading on a randomly-opened page, it’s that good.  I can’t think of another book, three actually, that have enjoyed more, or learned more from.  Formally prose, so many passages reach the poetic that it is as pleasurable to read, for those who enjoy the English language, as it is informative and stimulative.

Jan Morris wrote these volumes as a young man, as James Morris before her gender change.  She writes in the Introduction to the last volume:

Mine is an aesthetic view of Empire, and there is no denying that as the flare of the imperial idea faded, so its beauty faded too.  It had not always been a pleasant kind of beauty, but it had been full of splendor and vitality, and when the Empire lost its overweening confidence and command, its forms became less striking and its outlines less distinct....  My book is therefore sad without being regretful.  It was time the Empire went, but it was sad to see it go; and these pages too, while I hope they are not blind to the imperial faults and weaknesses, are tinged nevertheless with an affectionate melancholy....  I hope my readers will discover in themselves ... at least some of the mingled sensations of admiration, dislike, amusement, pity, pride, envy and astonishment with which I have watched and pictured the passing of the British Empire.    

Morris is very witty, and I have captured a few examples of such in my two previous posts, the first seven years ago now.  One more:  The early British West African trading firm Swanzy’s, later to form a part of the conglomerate Unilever, at one point gave its historic, ceremonial staff, an important totem at one time, to the British Museum, “and thus [it] disappeared from human knowledge.”  Yet another (it’s hard to stop):  The appointed successor to Tennyson as Poet Laureate was one Alfred Austin, and enthusiast of Empire and of mixed reputation, who, writes Morris, “was apparently impervious to criticism, and this is lucky, for nobody has had a good word for him since his death in 1913.”

Morris visits cemeteries.  She reads the stones, she sits and soaks in the sights and sounds, she finds the stories that end there.  I’ve also walked among the stones, wondering about the stories untold, or half-told.  Near one of my family’s graves there is a four-grave plot, with a large monument.  The ‘darling beloved” James Jr. died in the early 1930s at the age of six.  One ponders for a moment the inestimable sorrow of the parents, and then one sees that a second grave is that of James Sr., who died just a few years later.  The other two plots are unfilled.  What became of the mother?  Were there other children?  Did she remarry and does she now lie a thousand miles away next to her second husband, leaving the first joys of her life lying together without her?   

Morris visited the southern England grave of the enigmatic romantic T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) in 1976 on the anniversary of his 1935 death, and found the grave covered with flowers.  In South Africa she visited the graves of the British killed there in the Second Boer War, writing “when I was there in 1975 I thanked the gardener for tending the British graves with such care.  ‘So long as you’re satisfied,’ he gently replied.”  She found the grave in Bermuda of a young lieutenant who died in 1837, buried under the epitaph “Alas he is not lost / But is gone before.” 

One last clip, which I have quoted before, for me one of the most touching.  In the southeast tip of Europe, she visited a cemetery holding the bodies of the many young Australians and New Zealanders whose lives were thrown away there through the criminal incompetence of the British military leaders in an especially senseless and horrific war:   

"In one of the lonely cemeteries in which, buried where they died, the Anzacs lay lost among the Gallipoli ravines, the parents of one young soldier wrote their own epitaph to their son, killed so far away, so bravely we need not doubt, in so obscure a purpose: 'God Took Our Norman, It Was His Will, Forget Him, No, We Never Will' ... for all too often the sacrifices of the Great War, as its contemporaries called it, were given to a cause that was already receding into history, like those discredited grey battleships, their smoke-pall filling the sky, hull-down on the Aegean horizon."

The most beautifully evocative writer I have ever read. 

After supposedly retiring, two years ago she published “Ciao, Carpaccio! – An Infatuation,” a personal appreciation of the 15th century Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio who populated his carefully detailed paintings with whimsical animals and objects.  Morris tells us that she is no scholar of art and that her “infatuation” with the painter is “largely affectionate fancy.”  One day while looking through a book with photographs of his work she saw in a small, curiously perched bird, overlooking a great scene, the spirit of the artist himself, writing “that before I went to bed I resolved to write, purely for my own pleasure, this self-indulgent caprice.”  Would that she will have more such caprices in the coming years.

R Balsamo